In Dr Marson’s monthly column, he’ll be chronicling his thoughts and opinions on the latest developments, trends, and challenges in the Smart Buildings industry and the wider world of construction. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, you're sure to find something of interest here.

It’s no secret that I don’t think smart building mobile apps are the way forward. They were great at the time, but are now a product of the past when we didn’t have a better way to give an easy user interface. Since the first app I worked on in 2014, back when a deployment to more than one operating system was a challenge, it was a robust, and I dare say, innovative method to engage with your users.

I’m sure that for many architects, the thought that someone like me would come along and make people stare down at their phones rather than up at what they designed, probably horrifies them. With hindsight, I now agree. Technology has moved on considerably in the past (almost) decade and we now have much more sophisticated human-machine interfaces. A lot of them, however, have struggled to leave our homes and museums.

Imagine patients in hospitals asking Alexa for help in getting to the loo or being able to gesture control through a catalogue of film options at the cinema. What if your building could identify you from the signal that your ring casts and never challenges you for an access card? For me, that’s a smart building. In most cases, the features in most smart building mobile apps are probably being done better by someone else – be that news from the BBC, travel from Citymapper or food delivery from Deliveroo. I think the reason those more creative examples aren’t mainstream is that they’re not as tried and tested as mobile apps are – and our industry loves security over innovation.

Generated by DALLE2 on 22nd July 2023 (prompt: dr who travels through time wearing a vr headset in an impressionist style)

Now the question is, will the Apple Vision Pro change our feelings towards new ways of interacting with our users? The new headset already comes with the app store and an operating system that we’re familiar with. A lot of the newness that prevents market penetration seems to have been solved.

I was impressed that there was a deliberate absence of any mention of the metaverse. Instead, there was a strong connection to the physical world – the eyes of the wearer are displayed on the front of the device when they need to interact with someone – there’s no hiding in plain sight. The ethnographic design for this device seems well considered, even down to the hand gestures and eye-tracking as a means of input, removing the need for clumsy wands.

I think the biggest barrier to entry for AR headsets is how silly we might feel wearing one in public. Will we feel safe using one in the office when we’re connected to a different world? Will a room full of people doing it look odd? I’m sure the first users of mobile phones felt something similar on their maiden landlineless calls.

The new era of spatial computing, as they called it, heralds spaces that are now just like Dr Who’s Tardis - bigger on the inside. The huge increase in screen real estate opens possibilities for information consumption, manipulation and content creation. It’s just the start of what comes next.

Do I think it’s the final vision? No. But it’s certainly a huge steppingstone towards the sort of UI experiences I want in buildings.

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Matthew Marson is an experienced leader, working at the intersection of technology, sustainability, and the built environment. He was recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering as Young Engineer of the Year for his contributions to the global Smart Buildings industry. Having worked on some of the world’s leading smart buildings and cities projects, Matthew is a keynote speaker at international industry events related to emerging technology, net zero design and lessons from projects. He was an author in the Encyclopaedia of Sustainable Technologies and a published writer in a variety of journals, earning a doctorate in Smart Buildings.